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Jerry Granelli: Groovemaster or Destroyer?

By Published: October 22, 2007
Avoiding the "One, Humor in Music and Letting The Piece Tell You What to Do

AAJ: The audience for the sets is mostly inaudible. They're certainly not talking through the performances, but I can hear them in the sense that I swear I can hear their attention—it's very palpable. Did you have the impression when you were doing the sets?

JG: Oh, yeah. They were definitely in for the ride. Now, we don't play with the expectation of applause, applause—sometimes the music just goes for a long time. And it did on the CD, too—I'm starting something while something else is ending.

AAJ: That's why I got that feeling of musical suites. The tunes morph into others.

JG: And then there's the James Brown song, "It's a Man's World, where we were ready to just play that song. By that point, we were ready to do that. And it's a surprise for the person taking the ride with us—all of a sudden, it's straight down the road.

AAJ: And after a few notes, they all realize that they know the song.

JG: Right. "How did I get here? Are these the same guys? But that happens a lot with audiences—they like to take that ride. And they were there to hear the band. They had come to see this band. And again, it was a great setting. They were really close to us—not 40, or 100 feet away. They were at the end of the pedal wires. So it was very warm that way.

AAJ: "Rock Thong is one of Christian's songs, and it's powerful. It starts with some marvelous two-way guitar and sort of congeals into a stuttering, staggering groove with J. Anthony's bass sort of taking the melody over David's wah-wah and Christian's chordal crunch. It really builds tension without releasing it—it uses a lot of the tools of electric rock while being really its own thing. And the silences around the notes are as important as the notes. Any thoughts?

JG: It's got that rock thing of not ever quite getting off—it keeps on building, it keeps on building, and just when you think it won't build anymore, it keeps on building! And we play with that with space. I like to not hit where it's expected. Maybe I'm not even capable of doing it now, of hitting where people think you're supposed to—but I like to not hit where you think that "one is going to be, which creates this little gap, and another kind of tension rhythmically. You think it's going to go, "Slam! There's the period! —and it doesn't happen there.


It's like reading a Cormac McCarthy novel. You know, the way he can write without periods at all, for pages, and you're just swept. You think you need a comma, you need something—and it keeps going. And that's what that tune does. I mean, it's a pretty stock groove, but the way it's spaced—I'm really working with avoidance [laughing]. There's all this tension about not playing all of it, and the mind starts ticking—filling in the gaps. People have heard that groove so much—I wish I owned the copyright on that groove.

AAJ: Even people who don't love music have heard so much of it that they have all these unconscious expectations of what's supposed to happen next. So if you avoid, say, the "one, it hits them in the stomach.

JG: Yeah. "That didn't happen! And that's a sort of a joke—it's something you're sharing together. I think music has a lot of humor in it. If you really understand the form, it has a lot of humor. It's like understanding a language; if you don't understand a language, it's very hard to get the humor in it. If you go to another country and don't know the language, you're going to miss the jokes.

But at the same time, I've found that if you're going from country to country and you can almost get into this sort of cosmic, ethereal humor groove—you can catch it. You can catch the natural feel of humor being expressed without knowing the language. Which, again, sets up another kind of communication: "We don't speak the same language, but that was funny.

AAJ: Well, you might do better at that sort of thing than some of us. You're a musician. You're used to picking up hints.

JG: When I go to Italy, I run out of words, and my hands just keep going. I do a lot of speaking with my hands, and my face, and eyes.

And the band is so about listening. It's not so much listening to each other as it is listening to the piece. The piece is dictating what's going to happen next. I think the band plays from that point of view. It's a quartet, but it's a quintet because there is this fifth element, and that's the piece. The piece is saying, "Jerry, just play 'chu-chu-chu-chu-chu-pap and it'll be fine.

AAJ: To give in to that requires a certain humbleness. You can't feel as important to the whole as you might otherwise.

JG: Yes. Usually, when Jerry Granelli's in charge, things don't go well. I would say that right across my life. When the self-will is going on—when I'm willing it—things don't usually turn out that well. And the same thing is true musically. If you're trying to manipulate it and control it, the music's not going to speak. It's not going to reveal itself. And I think that maybe that's the ultimate technique—this ability to plug into that at any given moment. And when you have four people willing to do that, then this reaction starts to happen, and this humor, and this play. It all starts to happen.

And every person in that band is a virtuoso. That's what's so interesting—that they're then willing to give all that up, to surrender it to the greater cause of the music.

AAJ: Well, if you can get to that point, playing music is a great thing to do for a living.

JG: Oh, yeah. I have no complaints about that. And I find myself wanting to play more and more with people who are interested in doing that. Which kinds of limits your circle in some ways, but at the same time it expands the joy of the experience. I'm really not that interested in not doing that.

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